Creating new perspectives since 2009

The West’s weakness in Syria is being repeated in Ukraine, says former UK official

March 9, 2022 at 8:40 pm

Tupolev Tu-22M, Strategic bomber plane is seen is seen as Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu visits Hmeymim base in Syria’s Latakia on February 15, 202 [Russian Defence Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

The former head of the UK government’s Syria team has said that the West is making the same mistake in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as were made in Syria a decade ago, calling for a no-fly zone to be implemented above Ukraine.

In an article he wrote for The Independent newspaper, Reza Afshar – the former head of the team responsible for Syria policy at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) – stressed that European and western nations have not learnt from the mistakes they made in their policy of non-aggression towards Russia in Syria and elsewhere.

As the civil war in Syria raged throughout the country after the popular revolution erupted in 2011, Afshar “watched the death toll rise to hundreds of thousands.” In 2015, Russia then intervened and “deployed its forces to help Assad directly murder civilians, flatten cities and blow up hospitals. The West ruled out assistance to protect civilians for fear of direct confrontation with Russia. That same fear now risks consigning Ukraine to a similar fate.”

While Russian forces continue to advance towards the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in a desperate attempt to capture it, it has resulted in massive civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, with Moscow committing the many same atrocities and war crimes it committed in regions it intervened in throughout almost two decades.

Afshar wrote that the use of those tactics in Ukraine “is a direct consequence of the weakness of western policy over the past 15 years: Weakness with respect to Russia in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, and weak responses to most foreign policy crises in the last ten years, in particular, — including Syria, Myanmar and Venezuela.”

READ: Syria opposition slams West’s ‘double standards’ over response to Ukraine war

In order to protect European and global security, he said, western nations must surprise Russian President, Vladimir Putin, by protecting international law. “We need to ensure not only that Putin fails to take Ukraine, but that he loses more than he started with: in other words, he should be pushed back to the pre-2014 status quo, losing Crimea and eastern Ukraine in the process.”

While admitting that support and weapons from the West “has and will make a difference”, the NATO alliance’s public rejection of Ukraine’s request to close the skies to Russian military aircraft “was a mistake”. He called a no-fly zone the “only way to stop Putin taking Ukraine at the expense of massive civilian losses and to deter him from future misadventures”, and urged the West “not to rule out closing the skies above Ukraine if it becomes clear that Russia is headed for victory at the expense of civilian life.”

Although he acknowledged the danger of pushing Putin into a corner and risking possible nuclear strikes, he reasoned that “we already face the risk of retaliation, regardless of whether we decide to close the skies. The means by which Putin loses are less likely to influence his response than the fact of the loss itself.”

What must be remembered, Afshar stressed, is that ”International law was designed to protect civilians from the horrific excesses of war, but it only works if it is enforced.” He warned that if such measures are not taken and Russia conquers Ukraine, “the West will be stuck supporting a messy, deadly and costly insurgency for years, if not decades, with no guarantee of success.”

READ: The war on Syria emboldened Russia and its relentless targeting of civilians in Ukraine